SALT LAKE CITY — Little Evelyn was born prematurely a couple months ago, weighing just 3 pounds, 1 ounce. But she still hasn’t left the hospital. She was born a preemie after her mom Katelyn went into preterm labor.
“It was like a scene in a movie — doctor’s running down the hall,” Katelyn described. “You’re terrified for your baby. You don’t know what is going on.”
Today, Evelyn is healthy, but she will likely spend a couple more weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit at Intermountain Medical Center. But between caring for their other son and working, Katelyn and her husband, Zac, can't always be at the hospital.
“Most of the time, I’m at work,” Zac explained. The family asked to not have their last name disclosed.
Katelyn admitted it’s been difficult to juggle their work and home life between spending time at the hospital.
That’s where Intermountain Healthcare volunteer Craig Provost enters the picture. He is a retired man who has made it part of his routine to volunteer at Intermountain Medical Center regularly. He checks into the NICU via his Vocera messaging system by saying, “Hi! I’m Craig and I’m here to cuddle!”
Provost comes in several times a month to do exactly that — cuddle newborn babies when their parents can't be there.
He scrubs his hands, puts on a gown and holds Evelyn early in the morning for several hours.
“It’s worth it! Goodness to hold a baby like this,” Provost exclaimed.
He said it helps him get out of the house on dark, cold winter days, especially after retiring.
“It’s good to get out,” Provost said. “That way I do have the social contact and enjoy it.”
Shannon Arnold, a physical therapist at Intermountain Medical Center, said volunteering doesn't just help the baby.
“It’s definitely symbiotic. It does a lot for the person that’s holding (the baby), but it also does a lot for the babies,” she explained.
Arnold said volunteering builds a special human connection without distraction.
"What that does for your soul and you can just let go of everything else,” she expressed.
A Harvard study shows people who volunteer are not as lonely, depressed, or stressed. People who volunteer are even rewarded physical health benefits like lower blood pressure and improved cardiovascular health and memory skills.
“It makes me feel so good to know that she’s just getting held and cared for,” Zac said.
His wife, Katelyn agrees.
“It’s just so nice as a mom to know that there are people that are coming and loving on your baby when you can’t be here because that’s really, really hard not being able to be with your baby all the time,” she said.
But Craig claims he is the one who benefits from this exchange the most. He said he is grateful to Katelyn and Zac for letting his come hold their baby.
Craig also volunteers with hospice patients at Intermountain Medical Center, at his church, and in soup kitchens to stay socially connected during the winter.